Grant funds to support early childhood learning in Craig | CraigDailyPress.com

Grant funds to support early childhood learning in Craig

Lauren Blair

Connections 4 Kids, the early childhood council serving Moffat and Rio Blanco counties, received the third installment of a grant last month from the Colorado Department of Human Services as part of the federally funded Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Fund.

The $15,000 installment is intended to help build infrastructure and personnel for Connections 4 Kids.

The funds are part of a three-year grant contract with CDHS in partnership with the Colorado Department of Education, which included an earlier $15,000 installment for infrastructure and $10,000 to educate parents and providers on Colorado's new early learning and development guidelines.

Colorado recently developed a single set of early childhood guidelines to be used statewide, which it consolidated onto a new website — http://www.earlylearningco.org — launched in July. The standards were designed by an advisory board consisting of representatives from state and national organizations — including CDE and CDHS — local early childhood providers, higher education, early learning professionals and others, according to the website.

"It's like a toolkit where they can pull up different things for different ages," explained Connections 4 Kids Coordinator Betsy Overton.

The guidelines are part of a statewide effort to improve young children's readiness for school. Colorado's Achievement Plan for Kids, passed through the state Senate, requires that all children in publicly funded preschool and kindergarten programs receive an individual school readiness plan, according to a CDE fact sheet.

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"By harnessing the investments from the Early Learning Challenge Fund grant, Colorado will significantly increase our youngest children's chances for success and decrease the gap in readiness between children with high needs and their peers," the CDE fact sheet said.

Part of Overton's job is to help disseminate the new guidelines and to let parents and early childhood providers know about the information available on the new website.

"There are a lot of different resources they can go to if they have a concern about their child," Overton said. "What they're doing is bringing all the information to one place."

In the coming months, Overton will be putting grant funds to use by organizing trainings for childcare and preschool providers, bringing in speakers to educate parents and running newspaper and radio ads to educate the public about the guidelines.

It's not often that a nonprofit organization finds itself with too much money on its hands, but with only three preschools in Craig — Moffat County School District, Eagle's Nest and Head Start — another three in Rio Blanco County and a total of 14 licensed home daycare providers, the $40,000 in total funds is more than Connections 4 Kids needs to meet the stated goals.

In light of this, Overton and leaders of other early childhood councils in rural counties opted to give a portion of the money back to statewide efforts, in part to help support more densely populated counties which received the same grant funds despite having as many as 55 centers, Overton said.

This state pool will be allocated to creating television ads and developing an app to make information organized and accessible via smartphones, among other things.

"The main goal is to make sure children are meeting the milestones as they grow," Overton said.

Contact Lauren Blair at 970-875-1794 or lblair@CraigDailyPress.com or follow her on Twitter @CDP_Education.